Dr Li Li Qun
A Fourth Generation Wu Style Tai Ji Quan & Qi Gong master visits London
by Michael Acton
In May 2006 Dr Li LI Qun and his wife arrived in London from Shanghai for a 4 week teaching programme. Dr Li is a fourth generation Wu style Master (Quan You, Wu Jian Quan, Ma Yueh Liang, Li Li Qun) and a Qi Gong Grandmaster. As his host and only representative in the UK I was pleased that he had accepted my invitation to visit London. After 12 years of study with Master Li (4 of which I spent living in China and many visits) and 29 years of Tai Ji study and practice all told, it was a personal milestone to bring such a high level master to London.
Master Li is a senior disciple of Master Ma Yueh Liang (1901-1998) and currently one of China’s leading exponent of the Southern Wu style of Tai Ji Quan (the system taught in Shanghai by Wu Jian Quan after he moved from Beijing in 1928 and founded the Jian Quan Tai Ji Boxing Association in Shanghai in 1932). Master Li sits on Chen Village committee as Wu style representative and is Deputy Executive Secretary of the annual Yong Nian International Tai Ji Conference. At 84 years of age he is still demonstrating and teaching. As fourth generation, he is as close to the source as you can get. His background knowledge of boxing is extensive. He started Shaolin boxing at 8 years old, later studying Xing Yi Quan, Tong Bei, Hua Dong Quan, Sun, Hao and Yang styleTai Ji with very accomplished and leading masters, eventually settling with Wu style when he met Ma Yueh Liang.
I had asked Master Li to teach some fundamental aspects of Tai Ji, Tui Shou and two specific Qi Gong forms to my regular students and students at the University of Westminster Society of Wu Style Tai Ji and Qi Gong. All the seminars were well and enthusiastically attended. On the first of the three Saturday seminars, Master Li taught some of the basic single and two hand manipulations of the Wu style Tai Ji system. He showed how to investigate the key strategies of ‘adhere, stick, join and follow’ and ‘don’t resist and don’t let go’ and how to understand ‘defence as attack’ by introducing some of the 6 or so single and several of the 13 major methods of Wu style hand manipulations. Master Li showed a subtle and high level of skill, beyond the simple use of ‘applications”.
On the next two Saturdays he gave two open seminars on Qi Gong and introduced students to two major Qi Gong forms. The ‘Dao Bu Fan Hui Qi Gong’ and the ‘Jiu zhuan, san huan dan’. The first was developed by Master Li and introduced in Shanghai in the 1970s. It concentrates on the Five Yin organs and is a walking, back-step Qi Gong. It is one of only 21 Qi Gong systems officially recognised in China. The second method focuses on Qi absorption and restoration by opening the three ‘Dan Tian’.
The level of instruction was particularly detailed and inspirational. Master Li was emphatic that studying the boxing aspects of Tai Ji alone was not enough.
“Tai Ji” he said “must be practised as a Qi Gong for the practitioner to arrive at the highest level of martial skill, health and longevity”. He sited Wu Tunan and Ma Yueh Liang as two such famous practitioners whose methods included deep Qi Gong practice which had afforded both an exceptionally high level of martial skill as well as health and longevity. Master Li pointed out that many other masters of Chen and Yang styles and external systems (many of whom he had known personally) had died relatively early because they had not practised Qi Gong to a deep level and had possibly injured themselves in developing their martial skills. Master Li teaches the methods of conserving, nurturing, absorbing and transforming vital energy. He added that the highest achievement exceeds martial skills. It is the attainment of the Dao.
I hosted two university seminars at the Integrated Health Dept. of the University of Westminster, where Master Li told stories of Qi Gong demonstrations and experiments in Japan and Hong Kong and extrapolated on the health benefits and methods of practice. He led students through a deep relaxation method and a method of sensitizing and developing ’emitting Qi’ and some important aspects of treating patients with Qi Gong. To the students of TCM these were revelatory sessions. Master Li was the first Chairman of the Shanghai Qi Gong Master Association and Managing Director of the Shanghai Society of Qi Gong for Rehabilitation as well as Honorary Advisor to the Shanghai University Qi Gong Centre. The list goes on. His Qi Gong credentials are impressive and his years of experience and personal practice are evident in his ability, demeanour and clarity.
Master Li gave three master classes in Jian, Dao and Wu Style Fast Form to my regular sudents as well as form corrections, simple and advanced Tui Shou. Between well earned rests he exhibited a remarkable level of skill and knowledge as well as fitness, flexibility and humour. His skill with weapons comes from years of experience and a diverse martial background. Master Li demonstrated one defensive aspect of the Dao and explained how it was used by the highly trained groups of soldiers who skirmished with the Japanese during their occupation of China using only the broadsword. He had studied Dao techniques with the man who had taught many of those soldiers and had used the Dao in real action. It put a new slant on what it means to wield a broadsword. His Jian techniques were light and agile and form corrections added subtle ‘cutting’ and ‘piercing’ aspects of Jian play. In Fast Form corrections, his jumping and kicking techniques, foot strategies and ‘Fa Jing’ belied his 84 years.
When I was last in China Master Li demonstrated the Wu Style Fast form at a regional Masters Demonstration in Shandong to great applause. There are few now in China’s Tai Ji community who are still demonstrating at 84.For those who are uncertain about what the Wu Style Fast form is, Master Li and Grandmaster Ma Yueh Liang have stated that the Fast Form (Kuai Quan) is the precursor to the Wu Slow form and was passed by Yang Lu Chan to Quan You, to Wu Jian Quan and Ma Yueh Liang relatively unchanged. It was not developed by Master Ma as some believe, it is of much older provenance. It was first demonstrated publicly when the Chinese Government called for all ‘indoor systems’ to be taught more openly to benefit the people. I believe this was early 1990s.
In reviewing the classes that Master Li gave there are several over riding aspects of Tai Ji and Qi Gong that Master Li continually alluded to. Regarding the study of Tai Ji he talked about constant practice but with ‘co-ordinated breath’ and a high level of ‘awareness’ and ‘mindfulness’. Each movement must be investigated in the context of ‘Nei gong’ so as to deepen the experience. He describes this as ‘Tai Ji as Qi Gong’ and for him this is a distinctive level of achievement. The practice of form alone is not enough to harmonize the internal and the external or to promote the energetic and mental transformations that are at the higher end of the Tai Ji spectrum. Master Li also practises sitting meditation daily. He asserts that it deepens mental experience and cultivates ‘original mind’ free from the bonds of language and conceptual thinking. Meditation also develops mental ‘stillness’, crucial both in the understanding of movement, guiding and emitting qi, awareness and sensitivity. As for Tui Shou the emphasis was squarely on the 5 strategies that go a long way to define Tai Ji as a boxing art: ‘adhere, stick, join, follow’ and ‘don’t resist and don’t let go’. In his last class he returned to the very basics and discussed and demonstrated ‘Zhong Ding’ as a critical aspect of Wu Style. He spoke of it as both a physical and a mental state. As for Qi Gong, Master Li placed great emphasis on regulation of ‘mind’, ‘breath’ and ‘form’, but advised that the mental aspect was by far the most important and that breath and form must adhere to the idea of ‘relaxed softness’. As my students discovered when led by a master, these three critical aspects of Qi Gong can be blended to create a particular ‘atmosphere’ and a new and profound experience of the ‘energetic body’.
Finally, Master Li’s Tai Ji training method is based on mutual co-operation and clear guidance in accordance with the Tai Ji Classics. Learning together requires students to give up any personal agenda and ideas of achievement. Intelligent practice is everything. Master Li says that conditions must be conducive to investigation and mutual benefit. Only in this way can the complex skills of Tai Ji be developed. In this way, real understanding and ability can grow and skills can become hardwired so that they can eventually become properly functional in more combative circumstances.
After a 4 week stay Master Li’s departed for some USA workshops. His visit reminded me that each time I spent time with him I found that I came away with plenty to work on
and to investigate. Beyond the inspiration and transmission that is always present when learning from a true master, I found that each time we were together my own views and understanding matured, sometimes radically and sometimes almost imperceptibly. This visit was no different. Something always rubs off from close proximity to a master. My students all agreed, something had definitely rubbed off that was more than just the techniques and theory that Master Li demonstrated and explained; something that was more subtle and long lasting and something that had changed their perception of Taiji and qi gong for ever.
Michael Acton is Senior Instructor and Founder Member of the Wu Shi Tai JI Quan & Qi Gong Association (UK) Master Li LI Qun is Honorary Chairman. Michael can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org